• December 24, 2014

Fighting for justice

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Posted: Sunday, May 2, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:20 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Olga Peña

Lonestar Living

I'm tan. I have dark hair, and when I get really excited, I still have a faint accent.

Guess this means my drive through Arizona could be spoiled by a nagging police officer insisting I'm here illegally, demanding immigration papers or questioning the "authenticity" of my driver's license.

How is it that one state in our great nation has passed a law that spits in the face of equality and civil rights and practically mandates racial profiling?

When I first heard the news about Arizona a week ago, I shuddered. When I read later in the week that a couple of Texas legislators wanted to introduce a similar bill here, I actually became physically ill.

This can't happen in the Lone Star State that shares 1,200 miles of border, a rich history and a strong trading relationship with the very country whose immigrants such bills focus on.

And while I believe the bill is unjust, I guess what disturbs me more than anything is Americans' reactions. Sure, I'm glad to see many groups and thousands of individuals rush to boycott and protest such harsh immigration reform.

But what about all those who stand still, and brush it off because they feel it doesn't affect them?

One poll released Tuesday showed that 70-something percent of Arizona residents agree with the new law - even though 58 percent of that number believe the law will lead to racial profiling and civil rights issues.

That's perhaps the saddest news I've heard all week.

I just keep whispering to myself, "not in America." Why are some willing to risk injustice to hone in on one group? After all, I doubt blond-haired, blue-eyed, Europeans, Canadians and Slovak immigrants would be bothered by such forceful "show me your green card" tactics in Arizona.

There are those who argue that the bill is all about protection, securing Arizona's borders and diminishing violence and criminal activity.

That's bologna. According to the nonpartisan Immigration Policy Institute, "crime rates in Arizona have been falling for years despite the presence of unauthorized immigrants, and a century's worth of research has demonstrated that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born."

At this point, there may be some readers who see my words as just angry talk from another Latin. Yes, I'm Hispanic. But more importantly, I'm a proud Latin-American woman who happened to be born on U.S. property in Panama (same hospital as Sen. John McCain) to legal immigrant parents, one of whom started serving as an American soldier before he had even left the Dominican Republic.

My life as a military dependent opened my world view as I traveled to many states and countries. Having seen firsthand the dire situations hard-working men and women fight to leave to better their futures and that of their children, I tend to be a little sensitive to immigration debates.

So is Martin.

Martin Escobar is an Arizona police officer who has filed a federal lawsuit saying there are no "race-neutral criteria or basis to suspect or identify who is lawfully in the United States," and that the bill is rooted in racial bias against Hispanics, which will place all Latins at risk of losing their constitutional rights.

That's the scary thought. As our nation progresses, will we digress for fear of being outnumbered by the very people Lady Liberty once beckoned to her mountains, prairies and oceans white with foam?

Will we forget that we're all immigrants to this great land, the melting pot of society, rich with the cultural diversity that makes us strong?

God, I pray not.

But I'll do more than pray. Like my pastor said Sunday, we must pray but we must also act. Fight for justice. Take action. Use our rights and civil liberties to turn the tide.

I'll be exercising my right fully as I fill out ballots. I hope you do the same.

Olga Peña is the Killeen Daily Herald managing editor. Contact her at opena@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7541.

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